What you hear in DC doesn't reflect what's going across the US: Fmr. US Surgeon General

Since leaving his post as U.S. Surgeon General in the Trump administration, Dr. Jerome Adams has taken to Twitter and other social media to advocate for better masking, testing strategies and other widely supported public health issues.

Now executive director of Purdue University's Health Equity Initiatives, Adams says working outside of the political realm allows him to more clearly express his own opinions and help on more of a grassroots level.

"I'm proud of the work that I was able to accomplish, even with the guardrails that existed. But when you're removed from that situation, you can have that conversation about nuance that I think is really what is valuable for people at the ground level in their day-to-day lives," Adams told Yahoo Finance.

Despite daily tensions during the pandemic, Adams says he chose to stay in the Trump administration because he felt it was important to work from the inside. As surgeon general, Adams said he fought to keep rent protections in place and better represent the nation's most vulnerable populations.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks after receiving the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Cheriss May
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks after receiving the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Cheriss May

"I think it's easy for people to sit on the sidelines and say, 'Hey, you should have left.' It's hard for them to understand that if you don't have good people who are representing vulnerable populations in government, whether you like that government leadership or not, that bad things can happen. It's hard to see the harm that didn't happen, especially in the fog of war," Adams explained.

"Everyone has a job and a boss. And we recognize that you can't go to work every day and criticize or undermine your boss and expect to keep your job. And so you have to pick and choose your battles," he said.

"You can't change the game from the sidelines," he added.

The problem with D.C.

While in office, and before vaccines were available, the Trump administration struggled to predict the trajectory of the virus and was strongly criticized for its policy calls.

Adams has his own criticisms of the Biden administration, but says there are ways to help create better policies in a country as diverse as the U.S.

"One of things we need to do is make sure we are getting out into the streets, out of Washington D.C.," he said, pointing to trips he and Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's COVID-19 response coordinator, took in 2020.

"What you hear in Washington, D.C., doesn't reflect what's going on in counties and cities and communities across America. We heard over and over again that there was plenty of testing, and we had numbers that supported the fact ... but there wasn't equitable distribution from that testing and we didn't know that until we got into hospitals and got into communities," Adams said.

Equity and distribution problems still exist. For example, antibody testing is only available through doctors offices, Adams said. He believes its a useful tool that hasn't been widely utilized. And there are reports that Pfizer's (PFE) antiviral drug Paxlovid isn't widely available in some parts of the country.

"There are disconnects that are happening in the system, between the tools being available on a national level and the tools actually being utilized on the ground level," he said.

It's why it is crucial that Congress continue to fund the pandemic response, Adams said.

"It's going to be important for equity, and it's going to be important for our economy, that we continue to do the things necessary to control this virus," he said.

'No political room for error'

When asked what he has to say about the political shadow that follows him as a result of serving in Trump's administration, Adams said he is committed to providing science-based guidance now that "guardrails" are off.

He said he understands why the CDC and FDA continue to receive so much criticism for the policies and decisions that have occurred under the Biden administration.

"Its hard to talk about nuance when you are in the position where there is no political room for error," Adams said.

He felt the sting when he first advised against mask-wearing, and later pivoted as it became clear it was a crucial tool against the virus.

"It's hard to have a discussion about the fact that masks aren't perfect, but they're better than nothing, in a world where they become politicized — and one side says 100% masking is the only thing that's going to keep us alive and the other side says that everyone should be able to say no to masking under any and all circumstances," Adams said.

"That's what makes it hard."

Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem

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